An Interview with Outside Magazine Photo Editor Amy Silverman
By Jennifer Schlesinger-Hanson
|Portrait of Amy Silverman by Sara Bielecki|
You have been the Associate Photo Editor at Outside Magazine based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico from 2008-2011, and became their Photo Editor in 2011. Tell us a little about how you got to this position, being that that you studied the moving image at University of New Mexico. Also, you were a Camera Assistant who had worked on shows such as Sex and the City, the movie Outsourced and many other projects for ten years prior to your position at Outside. What does your experience in the film & television industry bring to the still world of magazine photography?
I started my studies in still photography and then switched to film mid-way, graduating in Film Studies. After working with moving images for years I decided I wanted to get back into still photography which I considered my first love. I started interning and worked at some smaller publications and got a foundation in photo research. From there I just dug in and looked at editorial work constantly. Still photography was always a part of my life. The divide between stills and moving images is really not so great- in the end, we are telling stories with images. I got hired as the assistant photo editor at Outside when the economy was crumbling and magazines were folding on a regular basis. Honestly most people thought I was crazy to leave film and get into publishing. But I knew it was what I wanted to do so I was really determined. I felt so incredibly lucky to get the job that I worked my ass off to keep it and move up! I knew I brought a lot of great experience to the table and if given the chance I could prove myself. On a practical level, one of the greatest skills I gained in the film industry was a sense of what I was capable of. As silly as it sounds- when a problem arises on a film set, you can't really say to a cinematographer or director, "Oh sorry, we can't do what you would like to do." You just have to solve whatever comes your way, no matter how crazy or impossible it may seem at the moment. And you have to do it all under pressure. I spent time as a production manager as well, and it's just constant problem solving. I became more creative and resourceful and totally unwilling to give up. When I started out in that world I could never have anticipated how much that way of thinking would become second nature to me. So I bring this to the practical side of my job in every way- whether it's finding an elusive image, sending someone to a remote location or pulling off a complicated shoot. And then on top of this...the underlying love of combining images and stories has remained unchanged for me for a very long time. I love it
January 2012 Cover + Ironman gallery. This was shot at the 2011 Kona Ironman. Photographer: Andrew Hetherington
I don’t know about other photographers, but the idea of being a Photo Editor has always sounded so intriguing to me, choosing your favorite images to go with a particular story, researching photographers, etc. Is this position as glamorous as we imagine? Run us through a typical day or week.
I'm not sure glamorous would be the right word! The great thing and the sometimes challenging thing about being at Outside is the diversity of the material we cover. It makes it hard to classify a typical day or week. The work can be broken down into the assignments and then all of the stock research. There's a constant process of going over stories for the current issue and future issues, meeting with the Creative Director and Art Director to decide how we'd like to approach each story, and checking in with the Assistant Photo Editor on stock research for the front of the book. Because the photo department is very small, just two people, there's very little down time. Sometimes I travel for style shoots or cover shoots which can be fun. Most recently I was in Toronto to shoot a Tough Mudder event...before that was Sun Valley, Idaho for a style shoot. I try to make time to look at new work and new photographers and to check out other publications and yes- that's definitely fun and interesting. Sometimes our choice of photographer for a certain story is limited by geography- I recently had to find someone within Russia to go on a shoot in Siberia- so within those parameters, it's challenging and interesting to find the right person.
How is the print magazine business these days? It seems like so many magazines have had to produce a digital companion to compliment the hard copy – some are going digital altogether. How has the digital world affected the way you do your job over the past several years? And on that note, do you now look for photographers who can double as a videographer? How important is video to the magazine world?
Outside feels pretty stable- it's a privately owned company and it has been around for 35 years. We've definitely had some ups and downs since I started working there but I think we have done a good job of branching out into the digital world. There is even a TV channel now- Outside TV. I'm not sure how many people are aware of that. For me, my focus had stayed on print more than anything else but when we negotiate rights for images we have to get rights for the digital editions which means for the website and the iPad. We make much more of an effort to shoot video when we are doing cover shoots. Carlos Serrao made an amazing video for us during the July cover shoot with Trey Hardee, an Olympic decathlete. He had an idea for doing something more than just a normal behind-the-scenes video and it's really beautiful. We know we need to have more content for the website and iPad so we try to do it whenever possible. It is built into the budget at this point but it's still hard to add too much just for that. I think it is important and expected and our online folks are producing more and more content just for the website. Ideally the stories in the magazine are a springboard for more in depth treatments with video. Over the summer we did an Everest blog that combined stills, video and blogging and a story will be coming out in our October issue that looks back at what happened during this year's climbing season on Everest. I think this was a perfect scenario to make the most of all the elements. As far as looking for photographers who can shoot video...I would honestly say that I don't. It's not a dealbreaker for me. It's really on a case by case basis at this point.
Opener from the July 2012 Bodywork special with Trey Hardee, an Olympic Decathlete who won silver this year in London. Photographer: Carlos Serrao
How do you find the photographers for your stories? Do you have staff photographers? For our readers interested in doing magazine work, maybe you could suggest ways photographers could connect with your magazine? And, along that note, do your particular photographers tend to be avid outdoors-people?
We don't have staff photographers. We have one person, Inga Hendrickson, who shoots all of our gear in our in-house photo studio. She is hired as a freelancer but she's here pretty regularly. I find photographers so many different ways. We have people that we have worked with for a long time, so for certain covers or features, we tend to choose from that group of folks that we know and trust and who understand Outside. Sometimes people think of Outside as a magazine that features only "adventure" photography or primarily nature or landscape photography. In reality, this isn't the case. The work that we assign tends to be portraits for features, reportage where a photographer travels with a writer, covers, style and still-life for the gear. Much of the adventure photography- which can be found in the Exposure section and the destinations section is stock. Dispatches uses a lot of stock. Every once in a while we'll shoot something for that and for Bodywork. I have an ever growing list of adventure photographers- who live that lifestyle of skiing, climbing, surfing, etc. that I call on consistently when looking for existing photography for those sections. In the winter we always do a rundown of the best places to ski- that's a time when we go down that list and solicit images. When we are looking for river based images- kayaking, rafting, etc. I have an idea of who might have the right images for that. I encourage people to send an email with a link to their work - if they have traveled to a certain place that we happen to be covering, that's a great way to get work in the magazine. Exposure is a great way for photographers I haven't used to get work into the magazine. Photographers who think their work is right for an assignment in the magazine, again, send a personal message with a link to the work or a sample of work. It may not happen right away but if it seems like a good fit, I wait for the right story, the right location, etc. to make an assignment. It really behooves photographers to understand the magazine and what type of work we assign. I'm always surprised at how often people approach me for an assignment without taking the time to get the know the publication.
Opener from August 2012 story about Robert Wood Jr., an autistic boy who got lost in the woods at a park and evaded search and rescue volunteers for 5 days. Photographer: Susan Worsham
What was your favorite story you published so far this year? Do you have any favorite photographers you work with?
Photographically, my favorite stories: We did a gallery at the Kona Ironman in 2011 that appeared in our January issue. Andrew Hetherington shot it and did an amazing job. I was really happy with how it came out. In our August issue we ran a story about an autistic boy who got lost in a park in Richmond, VA for 5 days. This is a case where I was looking for someone in Richmond and came across Susan Worsham, who had appeared in PDN's 30. She hadn't done much editorial but her work is gorgeous and perfect for the story. I love how that turned out and wish we could've run more of her images. The piece about Trey Hardee that Carlos Serrao shot for us is definitely up there. He's impressive, has such a strong vision and is a great guy.